Labor’s problem is that it doesn’t live in Australia

Some good work today from Guy Rundle, whose brain has been missing for quite a while:

Pity the poor Laborista assigned to do the Light on the Hill address in 2019.

Jim Chalmers wanted to use it to tell Labor to abandon its nostalgia regarding old-left socialism. But of course he also had to recite Ben Chifley’s accomplishments. Here’s how he handled the engine driver’s greatest passion: “His membership of the banking royal commission from 1935 to 1937 showed him what did and didn’t work about banking and finance”.

When you’re telling the party to move to the centre, and the lecture is named after someone who wanted to nationalise the whole banking system, probably best to simply leave out the greatest fight of his life altogether.

Look, Chalmers seems to be a decent guy, but his Chifley oration is heartbreakingly self-parodic — an effective demonstration of the terrible situation Labor is in.

Bill Shorten’s Labor came to the 2019 election with a grab-bag of policies, some of which — renewables, childcare, tax — were mildly leftish but had no overarching narrative, common grounding, or much passion from the right-faction figures selling them. The campaign marked the final point of Labor’s long leaching-away of any form of social-political analysis that had been cross-fusing the party since the 1920s, and which had all but run dry after 1996.

Having become immersed in neoliberal economics, choice theory and focus groups, the sort of atomised individualistic thinking that underpins such processes deluded the party into thinking that that’s how society actually is. So they offered nothing but isolated bids; a policy auction.

Because some of these offers were leftish, Chalmers asserts that Labor was perceived to be against mobility. “Mobility” is Chalmers’ mantra, the idea that Labor should be realised by assisting people and families to go about their individual and differing self-advancement.

That’s tricky if you’re delivering the Chifley, because the obvious content of the “light on the hill” — from the Sermon on the Mount by way of John Winthrop — is that we are going towards it collectively, that it’s the only direction to go in. Winthrop, a Puritan settler of Massachusetts spoke of the “city on the hill” that would serve as a beacon to the dissident — and fiercely ethical — puritans of Europe. That worked for Chifley, for Whitlam and even for Hawke, because they presided over societies in which the mode of life of Labor’s base retained a residual collectivism, a fact which relied on an absence of mobility. Similar schools, jobs, neighbourhoods — we were moving towards the light together.

Chalmers thus has to combine these contradictory notions and the result is rich in absurdity. Here’s my favourite: “A forward-looking society, an outward-facing country, powered by an upward-climbing economy”.

Also known as: nose-down, arse-up, going round in circles.

Chalmers’ hope as expressed in the oration is that 2019 is like 1980; the disappointment before the triumph. That is presumably a gin-up for the troops because, without some real rethinking, 2019 will be more like 2001 for Labor — or 1951 — the first of a string of losses.

The simple point to make is that Chalmers (and much of Labor) has entirely misunderstood how Morrison eked out his 2019 win. They appear to have latched on to the idea that Morrison sold aspirational individualism better than they did, while Labor’s various statist offers smacked of collectivism. That is exactly the opposite of what occurred. Morrison didn’t advocate an individualistic and competitive society — he assumed that it existed, and offered, via political sloganeering, some partial compensations for it. Morrison supplied a collective of atomised individuals — “the quiet Australians” — who lived up to the “promise of Australia”.

That’s not a bad explanation. The “quiet Australians” moniker is a collective description of those marginalised by “loud Australians” like Guy Rundle, the progressive globalists that dominate the media.

This ties in quite nicely with the geographic results of the election, won and lost in QLD, the most Australiana of the states. Morrison did pad out his “quiet Australians” moniker with various policy gestures to suggest that they are the true Australians:

  • minor cuts to immigration versus Labor’s mad parental visa;
  • not being a Labor China groveler adding a national security tinge;
  • plus all of his daggy Dad stuff being reminiscent of mono-cultural times.

It is also what SocMo is up to today with his attack on UN:

“We should avoid any reflex towards a negative globalism that coercively seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill-defined borderless global community,” Morrison said in a speech at the Lowy Institute think-tank.

“Under my leadership, Australia’s international engagement will be squarely driven by Australia’s national interests.”

Let’s not forget that this was not enough to prevent the LNP vote from falling as well. But it fell less. And the breakaway nationalist minor parties, with the strongest collective message, did the rest.

I totally agree that Labor has no chance at all until it rediscovers its own collective mantra.

I’d suggest the label “Australia” as the best place to start.

David Llewellyn-Smith
Latest posts by David Llewellyn-Smith (see all)


  1. Charlie Daniels

    Where do I get that t-shirt with Shortens smiling mug on it. There must be boxes of them somewhere.

  2. HadronCollisionMEMBER

    i hope some labor apparatchik is sending this on internally.

    and all your other stuff

    they’re a total rabble

    chalmers is part of the problem. nice bloke sure, never had a real jerb but

    • proofreadersMEMBER

      Bowen is the only person in the ALP with the sign of a pulse, but he got to carry the can for their May election defeat.

      Probably, a lot of their older troopers (Plibersek, Wong, Shorten etc) will give it away after their likely inevitable defeat at the next election, if not beforehand

  3. SnappedUpSavvyMEMBER

    “A forward-looking society, an outward-facing country, powered by an upward-climbing economy”.

    did Gomer Pyle honestly say that…….. that does deserve some ridicule

    • But tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!

    • proofreadersMEMBER

      @SUS What a joy to find someone else old enough to remember Gomer Pyle (now reincarnated as Jim Chalmers and to whom I have likewise compared on MB).

  4. D1ckheads need to ask why so many productive, formerly committed legazens are looking to get out of Dodge, especially for their childrens’ sake.

    And not only ask, but manage to listen without a contemptuous moue of distaste at the answers.

    From: a former near obsessive Labor supporter.

  5. Progressive Globalists ????? since when was the original gang of transnational economists and corporatist funders considered progressive.

  6. “Under my leadership, Australia’s international engagement will be squarely driven by Australia’s national interests.”

    Is that selling housing out from under young Australians to foreigners?
    Is that selling our resources to multi-nationals to gouge us in our own country?
    Is that selling our biggest farms to Chinese companies?
    Is that raising the Chinese national flag at an Australian police station?
    Is that taking bribes (cough, donations) from CCP members and having lunch with them?
    Is that ruining our education sector to “sell” education to foreign students?
    Is that signing FTA agreements that let foreign companies bring in cheap labour to strip Australians of jobs?
    Is that having multitude of ex-politicians sitting on the boards of foreign banks and multi-national companies?

    Doesn’t seem to me our government is looking after the average Australian citizens interest at all.

  7. Labor is gone. It serves no function anymore. It has totally lost sight of its original purpose.
    It needs to die (hopefully quickly) so something meaningful can take its place.

    F wits like Chalmers are the very symbol of Labor’s total abject and complete failure.

  8. People in Australia on the whole want lifestyle and the means to do it; in my opinion people here aren’t looking to be “efficient” or whatever – they just want the simple life. House prices crashing (as just one issue last election) threaten that mentality of “work hard and fair, go home, enjoy life” attitude. Any politician that goes back to old Australiana 80’s family like values will get the vote of most people (nostalgia of a simpler time?). In this light a “fair go” means something different than what they were sprouting and the “Dad” like persona is probably an asset vs say the inner city leftie.

    The big issues for most Australians don’t matter (TPP’s, high level corruption, etc). As long as they can work, go home, go to the beach or whatever leisure they do and she’ll be right mate its all good. We’re a placid people. If that’s threatened though (say by removal of NG/CGT threatening tradie work) then that’s another story.

  9. Jumping jack flash

    The problem is the merging or redefinition of “Left” and “Right” have taken Labor by surprise. The Libs and Labs are pretty much identical now since, but the Liberals just do it better.

    Plus they’re much more closely aligned with Australia’s values du jour: The idea of Bob Hawke’s “noble worker” is dead, replaced by the “savvy investor” who buys and sells houses and lives for debt.

    And then you get the diehard nationalists who vote for Clive, Katter or Hanson. But there’s simply not enough to combat the Liberal vote in any meaningful way.

    The issue with Labor now is that it basically needs to do “Liberal” better than the Liberals… or go full Nationalist.. both are tough paths.

  10. Let’s not forget that this was not enough to prevent the LNP vote from falling as well.

    To Palmer (+3.43%) and Hanson (+1.79%).

    That obviously doesn’t mean on its own that the Liberals/Nationals were doing anything wrong.